Star Tribune high school sports writer Jim Paulsen (41-20) correctly picked 19 of 23 playoffs games thus far, but that’s not why David La Vaque (37-24) agrees with him on each of Thursday’s state semifinal selections. All games are at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Eden Prairie (11-0) Vs. Maple Grove (8-3), 7 p.m.
Jim says: Inclement weather. Injury concerns. High expectations. Nothing looks like it can slow the Eden Prairie juggernaut right now. The Eagles defensive coaches game-planned to take away Lakeville North RB Raja Nelson in the quarterfinals. You can bet they’ll be ready for Evan Hull.
Pick: Eden Prairie 35, Maple Grove 17
David says: Matt Lombardi’s charges are 0-6 against Eden Prairie dating back to 2011, including two playoff losses. The bright side? Familiarity breeds confidence. Maple Grove isn’t playing the Eden Prairie mystique. Still, from a pure X’s and O’s standpoint, the Eagles are superior.
Pick: Eden Prairie 31, Maple Grove 20
Holy Angels (10-1) Vs. Winona (11-0), 4:30 p.m.
Jim says: When LB/RB Jack Anderson was lost to a knee injury in the regular season, there was talk that Holy Angels’ season went with him. But QB Joe Heimbold has elevated his game, and the Stars’ defense has adopted Anderson’s physical style. But Winona is physical, too, and has a lot more playmakers.
Pick: Winona 28, Holy Angels 21
David says: Grit and determination fueled Winona’s close victory last week against Fridley. A strong defensive effort didn’t hurt, either. Defensive linemen Nick Waldo and Aaron Witt helped ensure Fridley’s final drive came up short. Prep Bowl runner-up last fall, Winona earns another shot.
Pick: Winona 35, Holy Angels 28
Caledonia (11-0) Vs. Paynesville (9-2), 2 p.m.
Jim says: Caledonia could play two classes higher and be a state tournament contender. Minneapolis North learned that last week in a 38-0 shellacking. Senior Owen King is arguably the state’s best QB. King, who signed to play basketball at South Dakota State, is 39-0 as a starter.
Pick: Caledonia 39, Paynesville 14
David says: Frankly, it’s too bad Caledonia doesn’t play up in class. Be that as it may, the Warriors have the look of a state champion. Just ask Minneapolis North coach Charles Adams, who called his team’s loss a good old-fashioned behind-whupping.
Pick: Caledonia 42, Paynesville 7
Spring Grove (12-0) Vs. Stephen-Argyle (11-1), 11:30 a.m.
Jim says: Spring Grove’s potent offense all season has averaged more than 420 yards and 47.3 points per game. The Lions have defeated four-time defending champ Grand Meadow (twice) and high-flying Cleveland (also twice). I don’t see Stephen-Argyle stopping them.
Pick: Spring Grove 34, Stephen-Argyle 16
David says: Stephen-Argyle can make plays defensively, and that complements a strong running game. But Spring Grove QB Alex Folz’s ability to throw and run, coupled with the controlled environment within U.S. Bank Stadium, will make the Lions tough to contain.
Pick: Spring Grove 28, Stephen-Argyle 14